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Archive for November, 2012

Madrid Quick Shots

Tanya and I are leaving Spain today. We spent the last four days in Madrid, the first couple days with Brooks (who flew back separately). I didn’t have time for any serious photography, but wanted to post a few quick shots before I left. Enjoy!

Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol – at the center of Madrid and a hub of humanity


The several hundred-year old wooden stairs up to our apartment (5 stories!).

Random Statue

Not sure of the name of this statue, but I liked the look of it with typical Madrid buildings in the background.

Bubble Blower

Lots of street entertainers here, including this bubble blower across the street from the Royal Palace.

Granada, the Alhambra, and a bit of History

Alhambra at Dusk

Alhambra at Dusk1492 was a big year in Spain. Americans, me included, mainly associate the year 1492 with when Columbus sailed to the Americas. However, here, 1492 is the year the Catholics finally conquered all of Spain from the Moors. The Moors last stand was here in Granada. The Alhambra was the last Moorish palace and seat of power in Spain. Over the prior several hundred years, the Moorish holdings in Spain had gradually been pushed south and east, until finally Granada was the last stronghold. Then in 1492, King Fredinand and Queen Isabella ruled over the conquest of Granada. As was the tradition, they moved their capital to Granada to establish the new seat of power on top of the old (similarly, many churches and cathedrals were built on top of mosques). When the country was finally all Catholic, Fredinand and Isabella also required all non-Catholics to convert (the year being 1492). So you can see, 1942 was a big year for Spain (I apologize to any of my Spanish readers for butchering your history).

One of the big themes in Sevilla was Columbus, who sailed to the Americas from that port. His tomb is in a grand crypt in the Sevilla Cathedral (he is supposedly also buried at two other sites, but Sevillans claim the one in their cathedral is the real one). Here the big theme is the Alhambra, the last stand of the Moors, and the reign of Fredinand and Isabella. Fredinand and Isabella are entombed here, in the Royal Chapel, which we visited yesterday.The Alhambra stands high above the old Moorish section of the town, and the Moorish influence is still heavy today (there are many shops selling goods from north Africa and restaurants with Moroccan food).

The Alhambra is a UNESCO world heritage site, and the most popular attraction in Spain. However, November is the off-season, and when we went yesterday afternoon, it was not too crowded. It is truly an amazing place, and I can highly recommend it. It’s main attraction is the Palacios Nazaries – the Moorish palace; but there are other wonderful sites as well, including the Alcazaba (the fort), Charles V’s palace, the Generalife Gardens with the Moorish summer palace, and the Partal Gardens.

Alhambra Detail

A closeup on the Alhambra at night.

Alhambra Arches

Arches inside the Alhambra

Alhambra Pool

A courtyard in the Alhambra

Granada Cathedral

The dome above the altar in the Granada Cathedral

Albayzin Street

Shopping street in the Albayzin, the old Moorish section of Granada


Olives in a street-side shop

Leaving Seville

Alcazar Dome

Alcazar DomeWe are leaving Seville (or Sevilla as it is spelled here) this morning and heading off to Granada with a quick stop in Gibraltar along the way. I don’t have time to write much, so I’m just posting a few photos of Sevilla. The featured photo above is of a domed ceiling in the Alcazar. The Alcazar is the royal palace in Sevilla. Enjoy the photos!


Another scene from the Alcazar

Alcazar Fountain

In the Alcazar gardens

Alcazar ceiling

Another Alcazar scene looking straight up

Sevilla Cathedral

Night shot of the the main entrance to the Sevilla Cathedral

Bell Tower

NIght scene from Sevilla with the Cathedral’s bell tower

Jewish Quarter

Typical street in the Jewish Quarter

Holy Toledo!

The Toledo Cathedral
The Toledo Cathedral

The Toledo Cathedral

From New York, Tanya and I flew to Spain, rented a car, and drove to Toledo to start our Spanish vacation. The next morning, our son Brooks flew in to meet us.

Toledo is the former capital of Spain. The city teems with Christian, Jewish, Moorish, Visigothic, and Roman history. The cathedral was amazing. Construction of the cathedral started in the year 1226 and was completed a mere 250 years later. My photos don’t due it justice. The place is huge. I could have spent all day in there taking photos. We also visited the Santa Cruz Museum, home to more than a dozen El Greco paintings (El Greco lived in Toledo in the late 1500s and early 1600s); the Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca, a synagogue built by Moorish workmen in 1200 (later converted to a church in 1492 after the Jews were forced to convert to Christianity); the San Juan de los Reyes Monasterio, a Franciscan monastery built in the Gothic style circa 1500; and Santa Tome, a wonderful little church that is home to one of El Greco’s most famous paintings, the The Burial of the Count of Orgaz (unfortunately, no photography allowed).

We stayed in an apartment a few meters from the Toledo cathedral.  Driving to the apartment was an adventure in itself. Most the roads are only wide enough for a single car. At some corners, the edges of buildings are carved out to allow room for side mirrors. The apartment was inside a building constructed in the 15th century. Unfortunately, our internet connection was not working, so I’m posting this from Sevilla.

Enjoy these photos from Toledo and I’ll post some from Sevilla in the next few days.

Toledo's High Altar

The High Altar in the Toledo Cathedral (hand-held, no tripods allowed).

In the Cloister

A scene from the cathedral’s cloisters.

Toledo Street Scene

A street scene from Toledo


There was a general strike in Spain while we were in Toledo. Here are protesters in the Plaza de Zocodover. Across the street, there were probably 50 police keeping watch.

Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca

Moorish style arches in the Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca

San Juan de los Reyes Monasterio

The altar in San Juan de los Reyes Monasterio

El Expolio

The painting “El Expolio” by El Greco, in the Santa Cruz Museum

Tripods in New York

Empire State Building and New York
Empire State Building and New York

Empire State Building and New York

Yesterday, being our first full day in New York, I decided to carry the full camera bag and tripod around. Probably not the best move, since the camera bag bumped into several people, including Tanya (according to her, about 25 times). We hit two big sites yesterday, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Top of the Rock.

It is the museum’s policy to have visitors check all bags and backpacks – except for camera bags! At the security desk, they gave me a special pass allowing me to carry my camera bag (backpack) in the museum. However, it could not be worn on my back. Most of the visit, Tanya wore it for me on her front – what a woman! And, as it turns out, tripods are allowed on Wednesdays through Fridays – again with a special pass, this one given out by the information desk. They tape the pass to the tripod, so that the museum the guards/docents can see that you have it. I got the feeling they didn’t particularly like me using my tripod (more than one dirty look), but only one or two checked my passes. I felt rather special, being able to use the tripod; and it came in very handy, since flash is not allowed.

After the museum, and a short taxi ride, we arrived at Rockefeller Plaza. Here we bought our tickets to the top ($25 each, a bit steep if you ask me), and went to have a drink at the Rockefeller Cafe (with windows on the ice-skating rink). We had to wait an hour, then went through security (think airport, complete with x-ray machines and metal detectors) to go up. At security, they asked “did anyone tell you about the tripod policy?” “No,” I said. “Well, you cannot spread the legs; you can only use it with the legs together like a monopod.” I’m thinking, you’ve got to be kidding, a classy place like the Metropolitan Museum lets me use a tripod, and a tourist dive like the Top of the Rock will not?

The Top of the Rock is on the 68th, 69th, and 70th floors of Rockefeller center. The 70th floor is a 360-degree, open-air view. There were one of two other people using tripods, and I wanted to take a shot of Tanya and I with the city in the background, so I broke the rules and no one said anything. It was about 6:20 p.m. and dark. So I used the flash for us and a long exposure for the background lights. (Hint – when shooting a photo like this, have the subject stay still through the entire exposure, in this case 10 seconds, not just during the flash. If the subject moves after the flash goes, the background will be visible through the subject.) Tanya went inside out of the cold (the wind was blowing) and I took a lot more shots (trying to not fully extend my tripod legs). This, coupled with the wind, presented a problem, and most the shots I took turned out blurry. However, I did get a few relatively clear ones and put together the HDR image featured here (three shots, 2 stops apart).

Today, I left the tripod at the apartment we are renting, and we went to the American Museum of Natural History (no tripods allowed). Tonight, I did pull out the tripod again to take more night shots – this time with the legs fully extended. These shots are of the skyline and East River from Roosevelt Island (which is where we are staying). I doubt I’ll have a chance to process those until I get home, so stay tuned and hopefully I can show you in a couple weeks how those turned out.

Tomorrow we leave New York and fly to Spain. I hope to have another post from there in a few days.

Joe and Tanya

Tanya and I at the Top of the Rock

van Gogh's "Self Portrait with a Straw Hat"

van Gogh’s “Self Portrait with a Straw Hat”, one of the many wonderful paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Free Day

Have you ever had a free day? You know, a day where you had something planned, and the plans fall through, and so you have a day without obligations and you’re free to do anything you want? I had hoped to be posting from New York today. You see, the dog/house sitter was set, the bags were packed, and Tanya and I were almost ready to go (kind of sounds like a song), when the airline called last night around 9 p.m. Due to a winter storm hitting the New York area, our flight was cancelled.

Though I was a bit miffed, it wasn’t too bad. Our main destination is Spain; New York is just a stop along the way. Since our flight to Madrid doesn’t leave until next Sunday, the flight delay doesn’t affect the flight to Spain. So although we are missing a day in New York, it doesn’t totally screw up the trip. (Though I still may have to pay for last night’s room – ouch!)

So here I am, still in Tacoma, with a free day. I accomplished all my pre-trip chores yesterday; so today I can do whatever I want. And it isn’t so bad being here today. The sun is shining and it’s about 55 degrees – rather pleasant. At this very moment, according to NOAA, there is a blizzard in New York, specifically 32 degrees, foggy, heavy snow, with winds over 20 miles per hour.

As a teaser for my upcoming posts for Europe, I’m posting one of my favorite images from my last trip to Europe. I shot the following image in Edinburgh, Scotland on the Royal Mile. The black & white conversion was completed in Photoshop.

Royal Mile Reds

Scene along the Royal Mile, Edinburgh.

One more thing – today is Tanya’s birthday! As you now know, we had planned to celebrate it in New York. But with those plans ruined by the weather, we’ll have a little dinner at home with a nice bottle of wine. Then tomorrow morning, dark and early, it will be off to the airport and hopefully to New York. For now, in celebration of her birthday, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite portraits of Tanya.


Highlights from the NPPNW

I had the opportunity last Saturday to attend the fall meeting of the Nature Photographers of the Pacific Northwest (NPPNW). The invited speakers were John and Barbara Gerlach, who spoke on mastering digital exposure and advanced flash techniques for nature photography. John Gerlach made a strong case for using manual exposure settings, and I may have to try out his techniques – normally I use aperture priority about 90% of the time. His technique involves picking an aperture or shutter speed you want to maintain, taking a picture, and examining the RGB histogram. Then the  shutter speed or aperture (whichever you don’t want to maintain) should be adjusted until the RGB histogram reaches the right side (assuming there are highlights in the image). That’s it; the exposure is set. So if light conditions don’t change, your exposure is good even if you recompose.

A big part of NPPNW meetings are their digital and print competitions. There are three categories for both the digitally projected and the print competitions: plant life, scenics, and wildlife. Because this its a nature photography group, images should not show the “hand of man” in a prominent role. Members are allowed to submit 3 images for the projected competition and 2 prints. I was lucky enough to tie for first place in the projected scenic category and take 1st place in the scenic print category (I also won 3rd place in the plant-life print category, but as there were only four prints entered, I didn’t take it as a big honor). Regular readers of my blog will recognize the two winners from earlier posts. The image below of the Tatoosh Range won in the digitally projected category – I used this image to explain my technique to stop the wind. The other image below, from Beach #4 in Olympic National Park, won in the print category – in a previous post I explained my vision and the (rather lengthy) processing behind this image.

Tatoosh Range and Wildflowers

This image of the Tatoosh Range in Mount Rainier National Park tied for 1st place in the Scenic category for digital photography.

Low Tide, Beach #4

A print of this image, taken at Beach #4 in Olympic National Park, came in 1st place for Scenic prints.